Thursday, 16 November 2017

The game that no-one watched: The last time I saw Forest at Birmingham City

I'm looking forward to joining the 2,800 travelling Trickies at St Andrews on Saturday but, as the fixture approaches, I can't help but think back to the time I visited the ground and a game that was momentous for a couple of bad reasons.

Photo by Florian Mรผller on Unsplash
While most sane people enjoyed a leisurely start to 2002, perhaps sleeping off New Year's Eve excess, I spent January 1 taking in the midday kick off between us and Birmingham.

The game had been shifted to noon in order to cater for the viewers of ITV Digital, which then had the rights to show second tier games.

When we arrived, it seemed touch and go as to whether we'd actually see any football thanks to the freezing weather. Yet, perhaps with a view to putting on a show for the visiting cameras, the hosts encouraged home fans to come onto the pitch and do their bit to clear off the frost and snow. We could merely watch - heaven forbid the away fans should get on the pitch and potentially clash with the Brummies! - and hope that the army of amateur groundsmen could save us from having ventured down the A42 for nothing.

Yet, if the grand effort was for the benefit of the TV cameras they needn't have bothered. That's because, while the 20,000 crowd might have appreciated the spade work, the official viewing figure for the fixture was zero. Now, apparently, a zero rating is given to any programme with fewer than a thousand viewers but, let's face it, that doesn't sound too impressive either does it? Basically, and probably sensibly given the timing, no-one was watching beyond Bordesley.

Was this the final nail in the coffin for ITV Digital? Who knows. It was certainly not an endorsement of its unpopular scheduling arrangements. Indeed, I recall that many anti-ITV chants were sung in that period in protest of games moved to daft kick off times. Oddly, there are now more games than ever moved for TV in the second tier and yet there's much less protest. Maybe we're more accepting now or maybe Sky's coverage is just better. One thing is certain: by May 2002 ITV Digital stopped broadcasting.

What did people miss? Not much in truth. I don't remember too much about the action - save for the fact that Stern John cancelled out an early Birmingham opener and that Jim Brennan missed an absolute sitter that could have secured all three points.

Yet the equaliser that day was to be the second reason why this fixture proved to be significant. The goal was the 14th of the season for the Trinidadian striker and also his last in Forest colours. John was finally finding his feet in English football yet apparently had a clause in his contract that would have triggered a further payment to former club Columbus Crew. Given our perilous financial predicament, we then couldn't afford for our top scorer to net another goal and, soon after, flogged the £1.5 million man for a bargain £100,000 to promotion-chasing Birmingham.

That's a tale that serves as a timely reminder of the mess we were in in the immediate post-Premier League days. Indeed, it was shortly after the 2002 Birmingham away game that we sold Jermaine Jenas to Newcastle too. While the folly of the Fawaz era left much to be fixed, it isn't the only time we've been in trouble. Indeed, as the excellent Steve Wright said on Matchtalk this week, we've never really been known as a well-run club. Nigel Doughty tried to mop up the mess of the 2002 era - and we owe it to him too to go one step further than he managed.

So, all in all, with fans mucking in to clear the pitch, no TV viewers and the sorry end for our top scorer, that game nearly 16 years ago left an impression. I'm hoping that Saturday is memorable for better reasons.

Oh, and while we're here, here's the starting XI for that 2002 game:

Ward, Vaughan, Brennan, Hjelde, Scimeca, Williams, Prutton, Summerbee, Jenas, John, Lester. Subs: Johnson, Roche, Bopp, Thompson, Gray.

Feels a long time ago doesn't it?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Diamond Dowell: A vision of the past and (hopefully) the future of Forest

Take a bow Kieran Dowell. The Everton loanee took centre stage at Hull on Saturday night and delivered a high quality hat trick that brought home all three points. Dowell's performance in this game, and the season as a whole, offers us some key lessons in the way the team is developing.

You only need watch Dowell for five minutes to see that he is a player of some pedigree and style. Yet, while that is often the case with young Premier League loanees, Saturday's sensational showing provided that there can be substance to his game as well as style.

In football, the term 'luxury player' is one of those mis-used clichรฉs. Too often it's only really used to mean 'inconsistent' or 'ineffective'. It's why I'm a little annoyed with myself for starting to fear that fielding Dowell in a red shirt might be a luxury we could ill afford. In the soul searching that inevitably follows a Derby defeat, I'd begun to ponder whether we needed grit and hard work in that number 10 role to make ourselves tougher to beat. Yet, it's never a luxury to have a player who can pass, create and score.

Don't get me wrong, not every game will be Dowell's. Warburton is trying to build a squad of players to suit the varied circumstances which emerge in a Championship season - and the likes of Clough, Carayol, Cash might well all find a stage to showcase their talents. It's healthy too that we aren't pinning all of our hopes on one talisman. But, this fixture showed why it is worth having some patience with the likes of Dowell - when it's his day, we're in for a treat - and we might even be witnessing the start of a very special career. Many Everton fans told us we were in for a treat with Dowell - and some wished they'd kept him. They'll no doubt be keen to have him back.

The comparison made by Bandy & Shinty with Ian Woan is a good one. There will be times when people feel Kieran isn't working hard enough, is being lazy or is drifting out of games. Those are easy criticisms to make of wingers and/or playmakers who are in the side to bide their time and produce the one or two moments in the game that are decisive. It's probably not the likes of Woan, Andy Reid or Dowell who are lazy - it's us for jumping to that often-wrong conclusion.

In many ways Dowell symbolises the team at the moment. There's much promise, flashes of brilliance, some rookie errors and signs that improvement is being made. If he and the team can grow together then that can deliver the progress we're all hoping for. The good stuff is enough to buy a little patience during the off days and anyone who thinks otherwise is daft.

I think we underestimate how tough it must be to just slot into positions such as his - and that filled by Liam Bridcutt. The team as a whole is having to learn to play a new style. Bridcutt was suddenly thrust into a role in which he's receiving - and having to make - a lot of passes with no time to get used to his team mates. Similarly, Dowell is playing a role that requires vision, accuracy, a cool head and a bit of strength and will only really work if the rest of the team functions around him. Sometimes it's said of mercurial players that they only perform if the rest of the team is performing. That might be true, but maybe it's also the case that they can only perform if the rest of the team does its job. Dowell - or any creative player - is every bit as reliant on service as an old fashioned number nine is on crosses onto his forehead.

I have to admit I was guilty of looking at Kieran Dowell very early on and thinking 'there's a proper Forest player'. Yes, I know, that's the sort of arrogance and delusion for which Forest fans are ridiculed by our rivals. In truth, he represents what a 'proper Forest player' used to look like - the sort of classy, composed, stylish-but-unshowy passer we probably took for granted 'back in the day'. These days, our club is no longer really defined by that style. What even was a typical Forest player of the last 10-15 years? We've lurched, largely unsuccessfully, from one to another too many times to be summed up by any style.

Perhaps, then, it's more accurate to say that Kieran Dowell epitomises what we want a 'Forest player' to be. Just as the 'Warburton Way' promises a passing style that we'd love to be renowned for. There's a long way to go yet, of course, but these feel like admirable goals. Just, indeed, like Dowell's three at Hull.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Forest Five Asides: Matching Montanier, Twitter, new style, defender shopping, old boys

I try not to get too carried away by league tables until ten games have been played. Until you've played a decent range of teams both at home and away it's impossible to judge what constitutes a 'good start' but now, having reached that landmark, it's worth seeing where we're at.

Memories of Montanier

A total of 12 points from ten games means we've achieved exactly the same tally as this time last season (although the points came from three wins and three draws a year ago). The comparative calm off the field - and lack of a Burke-shaped deadline disaster - does still give hope that things might not turn as sour as they did under Phillippe Montanier. The Frenchman's reign was just another in a long list of false starts, but it's not just the points total that feels familiar. An inability to keep things tight at the back and a struggle to find a settled starting lineup do, to some extent at least, continue.


None of that means I'm 'calling for Mark Warburton's head'. In fact, I can't help feeling that barely anyone really is. It seems these days that a few angry people on Twitter probably get a little too much attention and I've seen many more posts denouncing the 'Warburton Out' cries than I have genuine calls for his removal. Surely only a tiny minority would actually want to see the manager sacked at this stage? The vast majority of fans had modest ambitions for the season and, despite a run of five defeats in the last six games, there's no need to panic and presume that these can't be achieved. Indeed, anyone prone to panicking ought to have 'we stayed up on goal difference on the last day of the season and then sold our top striker' printed out and stuck on every wall of their house as a timely reminder. There's a long way to go.

Yet it's easy to see how one or two tweets can become a 'story' which, in turn, creates a skewed impression. Especially in a click-bait era in which cheap 'Twitter reacts' stories are churned out on an all-too-regular basis. Twitter can sometimes end up in a race to the bottom, with the most outrageous views getting shares and attention, and no-one is ever willing to admit a rash comment made in the heat of the moment was misplaced.

The Guardian's Football Weekly podcast remarked on Monday about the fact that Forest fans had been venting their frustrations on Twitter, which made me wince a little. It'd be a shame if we became known as 'one of those' fanbases that overreacts at every twist and turn. I mean, we're not Liverpool, right?

That's not to say that I'm calling for us all to be nodding dogs who slavishly go along with the 'regime'. Forest are making plenty of mistakes at the moment, and it's clearly fair to be worried about this. I think Seat Pitch summed up the balance to be struck in a piece this week, arguing:
"It doesn’t mean anyone is beyond criticism. It doesn’t mean we meekly stand by and watch a side give away soft goals week in, week out.But it does mean we’re in a process of renewal. It does mean that we trust the owner and the manager to have a plan and to stick to it. It does mean that there will be ups and downs."

Building from the ball, not the back

It's fair to say that the Warburton Way isn't going to be easy to adopt. He wants to develop a system that, by its very nature, will take longer to bed in. He certainly doesn't seem to have adopted the mantra of 'build from the back', in which received wisdom suggests you focus first on setting up a solid defence before anything else (although, conversely, 'build from the back' is what his sides do quite a lot!).

He prefers, it seems, to try to build a style that dominates possession - 'building from the ball' if you will. We shouldn't be afraid of new ideas and plenty of better teams than us try to starve the opposition of the ball. You can't, after all, concede if you're in charge of possession.

The challenge now is to avoid giving the ball away cheaply, learn how to cope with teams who put us under pressure by pressing high up the pitch and to become more dangerous on the ball in the final third. It's a different way, but that doesn't necessarily make it the wrong way. We've shown tantalising flashes of getting it right so far, if we can click then we might well be able to produce some exciting football.

Defender shopping

Still, a defensive recruit seemed an absolute must after last season's troubles and I can't help wondering if he regrets not prioritising this position now. Let's hope Frank McParland is scouring the leagues as we speak and can unearth another gem. His track record so far suggests that he's up to the task.

The current mob might've been tighter defensively under Dougie Freedman but we're not going to be playing 'Freedman football' under Warburton and it seems wishful thinking to me to think that they're good enough in the long run (although I hope I'm wrong, obviously).

Old Boys

If you needed a reminder about how long we've been out of the top flight then it was perhaps sobering to consider the case of Ryan Sessegnon on Tuesday night. The Fulham man wasn't even conceived, let alone born, when Forest last played a Premier League game.

I once used to fashion fantasy football teams from ex Forest players in the top flight in a vain attempt to cling on to our connection to the big time. I found out recently that I'm not alone - other fans of ex top flight teams have, apparently, been known to adopt a similar tactic.

But, could you even muster a Premier League XI from ex Reds now?

This is the best I could manage: Darlow, Kane, Bertrand, Lascelles, Morgan, Chalobah, Ramsey, Ince, Antonio, Burke, Akpom. It's a stretch given the number of loanees, that Todd Kane is a Chelsea player in name alone and Chuba Akpom is a footballer in name alone, but there you go. Did I miss anyone?

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Daryl Murphy and the men who love to play against Forest

Daryl Murphy's arrival at the City Ground does at least one thing. He won't - barring a 'Bendtner at Derby' moment - be scoring against us this season.

The former Newcastle and Ipswich man has five goals in ten games against Forest (including both goals in 2014's 2-2 draw below) - his joint best record against any opposition (although his five against Rotherham came in just five games, so it's a shame they've disappeared down the trap door).

Since I love a good stat that got me thinking about who else always seems to do well against us, the pesky players who save their best for the times when they're up against the Tricky Trees.

Thanks to the superb resources of the Transfermarkt website I was able to satisfy my curiosity. So, here are the men who have their career best goalscoring ratio against Forest:

Rudy Gestede: He's netted seven goals in seven games against Forest, tormenting us with his strength and aerial ability for Cardiff, Blackburn and Aston Villa. He's back in the division with Middlesbrough now, although the arrival of a new £30 million strike force in the North East might at least spare us from seeing him on August 19th if he's still there. His next best tally is four, against Birmingham, so we're far and away his favourite side to play against.

Matej Vydra: The Czech striker might have drifted around clubs since his arrival in England, but his failure to settle down hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for playing against Forest. He has eight goals in seven games, including Derby's first goal in the 2-2 at the City Ground in March, and two assists.

Darren Huckerby: Huckerby's loan spell at the City Ground was a joy to watch, even if it was a huge shame that we never made his move permanent. It was also a welcome change from seeing him put Forest to the sword. He has seven goals in five games against us, his best record against any side. Included in that tally were two hat tricks - one for Coventry in 1999 and one for Manchester City in 2002.

Matt Le Tissier: While Mark Crossley might have been the only man to save a Matt Le Tissier spot kick, the skilful Saints man more than made up for that with eight goals in nine games against us. He scored eight against Aston Villa too, but took 15 games to chalk them up.

Sam Vokes: Burnley are one of those sides who always seem to have the better of us in recent times. It's perhaps no surprise, then, to learn that Vokes' most prolific finishing has been against Forest, with eight goals in 14 games.

Jonny Howson: The Leeds, Norwich and now Middlesbrough midfield man loves a goal against Forest. His tally of six goals (in nine games) is double his best against anyone else.

DJ Campbell: Just hearing his name is enough to give me shudders after 'that' play-off performance for Blackpool at the City Ground. He has six goals in seven games against Forest in total, with three assists.

Stephen Dobbie: Speaking of play-off goalscorers (must we?), Stephen Dobbie also makes this list. While he has a better tally against some teams north of the border, Forest is his favourite English club to play against - with four goals in ten games and three assists. He's also never lost any of those ten games he's played against us. He can stay in Scotland.

Tommy Smith: The tricky Tommy Smith is yet another of those players whose name you hate to see in an opposition line-up. A consistent performer over many years, he has five goals in 12 games against Forest, with four assists. He has also put five past Reading and Coventry, but those have come in 14 and 21 games respectively.

Jason Wilcox: Wilcox was more known for setting goals up than putting them away, but the talented winger plundered five in his eight games against Forest. Two came in Blackburn's 5-1 win at the City Ground in 1996.

While those are the men who have their best goalscoring record against Forest (for recent times at least), there are others who also relished the chance to play against us but just so happen to have a slightly better record against someone else.

Last season's loanee Ross McCormack, for example, has eight goals in 14 games against Forest. That's his joint best tally - but his eight goals against Charlton came in just nine games.

Alan Shearer's career best record came against Leeds - with 20 goals in 20 games - but he plundered ten in nine games against Forest. Of the teams Shearer played five or more games against, Forest is the only one he didn't lose to.

Then there's Gregorz Rasiak. He has seven in seven games against Coventry - but did manage five in four games against Forest. Robbie Fowler scored six in seven appearances against us, Ian Rush scored 10 in 24 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer netted six in four including that ridiculous four-goal salvo as a sub in the infamous 8-1 home thrashing by Manchester United in 1999.

Dwight Yorke scored five times in nine games, Glenn Murray has five in seven, and Chris Wood five in eight, his second best tally.

Anyway, since the season hasn't even started yet let's at least look on the bright side. With Murphy on board we've at least snared one nemesis. I'll admit that I haven't always been his biggest fan in the past but his capture makes a lot of sense in the context of our current predicament and could turn out to be an astute bit of business to accompany the up and coming attacking talent on the books. The numbers also speak for themselves. His good record against Forest has come at a time when he's been one of the second tier's most consistent scorers. Let's hope he can spend the season finding a few new victims to prey on.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The two words that sum up my ambitions for this season

The week before the season starts is, traditionally, the week to get carried away. This is the calm before the storm, the period where blind faith and boundless optimism take over and when we dare to dream. To misquote Del Boy: "This time next year readers, we'll be playing the billionaires."

Still, while every fan should be allowed to dream, there's a difference between hoping for/wanting success and expecting it. Anyone in that latter camp ought to take in this cracking stat I saw tweeted by @ForestRav:

The fact that our average position post Premier League has been 16th in the second tier should serve both as a timely reminder of the level we've been performing at in recent times but also, as the man says, be a useful benchmark going forward. I genuinely think we've got the makings of an exciting young squad but we can't expect too much too soon - and finishing above 16th would put us above our average and show we're heading in the right direction after five seasons of continual downturn under the Fawaz regime.

Yet, while this might be a useful statistical target to judge ourselves against, there are other important measures that we should gauge the success of the season by. Points and positions clearly matter, but there's more to ponder in 2017/18 too. Last season I made seven targets for the season (safe to say we didn't do too well) this my ambition boils down to two words: stability and entertainment.

It's time for stability

Yes, we've been saying this for some time, but it really is time we had some stability at the City Ground. We need the new off-field managerial structure to establish itself, clean up any mess left behind by the previous regime and start making more of a success of the commercial side of things. The club needs to conduct its business in a professional way and to regain and retain the respect of fellow clubs as well as businesses in the Nottingham area. It also needs to involve the fans in a meaningful and appropriate way.

On the pitch, we need to end the season with the same manager - a feat not managed since 2010/11 and Billy Davies' first regime - and be able to consistently perform at a level that ensures we're clear of the relegation zone as a minimum. We need to try to stem the constant flow of injuries to the playing staff too.

The signs so far have been positive on both fronts but there's still a lot of work to do.

Talented side could provide entertainment

Establishing stable foundations for the club is essential. However, I'm also hoping for an entertaining campaign. I've got a lot of faith in Mark Warburton's ability to fashion a side that plays an attractive brand of football and can give anyone at this level a decent game. I think he's starting to piece together a decent squad that can achieve this too.

Following Forest has rarely been dull but often for the wrong reasons. If Warburton can send out a stylish passing team, we'll be interesting to watch for the right reasons again.

It's fair to say that the wider public expect little of us this season. While the odds vary, the bookies put us way down the list of promotion candidates - and suggest we'll be nearer the bottom of the league than the top. That's hardly surprising since we only stayed up on the last day of the season and have since lost our star striker. Being under the radar is certainly no bad thing.

If we finish above 16th we'll have had an above average season statistically. If we have a season of stability and provide some entertainment then we'll have been successful. Until Friday, we can but hope...

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

It ain't who you sell, it's the way that you sell 'em

Picture the scene. You score lots of goals, but concede even more. You end up finishing just outside the Championship relegation zone on 51 points. You've been through managerial turmoil - including caretaker management - but are now set to start a season with the man who ended the last campaign in charge. Promisingly, the manager is someone who has done well in the second tier before. Now, however, your free scoring star striker has just been sold to a side that has come down from the Premier League and is flexing its financial muscles thanks to its parachute payments.

Forest? No, that was Fulham this time last season. Clearly, it'd be foolish to think that Mark Warburton's men can follow in their footsteps and mount a play-off campaign just because the position of the clubs has parallels. However, Slavisa Jokanovic's Cottagers have shown that astute management, momentum and a combination of smart buys and up and coming prospects can come together and exceed expectations. Their success also goes some way to showing that the sale of Britt Assombalonga need not be a complete catastrophe.

Britt's £15 million transfer to Middlesbrough is hardly cause for celebration. The former Peterborough man's goal record speaks for itself; he's a natural at finding the back of the net. To lose him to a fellow Championship side is disappointing and - as Paul Severn's Seat Pitch article outlines - demonstrates the disparity between clubs that is furthered by Financial Fair Play and the rules surrounding parachute payments. We might be in the same division as Middlesbrough but we're barely in the same league financially. This is also Fawaz's legacy, however. While the rules are poor, a large part of the blame lies with our own for failing to build a club worthy of earning such a windfall. Boro are reaping the rewards of being well run.

But there were two questions to be answered about Assombalonga if he stayed at the City Ground - was he fit and did he fit. The first is perhaps a little unfair. I'm sure he's had a good pre-season and is in decent shape for the coming campaign. However, it's only right to say that there's a nagging doubt over his ability to perform at his peak on a regular and sustained basis post-injury. We might well have had to have a 'plan B' in mind for any games he'd have to miss anyway.

Did he also fit into Warburton's ideal line-up? I'm sure the manager is smart enough not to turn down the use of a proven goal scorer but I'm less sure that Britt would be his ideal main man. You get the impression he'd much rather have a more mobile centre forward, someone who offers more outside the box too. If the sizeable transfer fee can be used to further shape the squad into Warburton's style, then we might see progress. We might even have enough money to enhance other parts of the squad too.

Not only that, but there's also the question of Ben Brereton. I still live in fear that we'll lose him too, especially after his summer exploits in an England shirt, but there's no denying that he's shown an incredible talent in his breakthrough year. At times last season he was already outperforming Britt and you felt that he was eventually shoved further wide to accommodate his more experienced team mate during the relegation run-in (albeit sensible in the circumstances). If he continues to progress at the rate he showed last season, he'll be a better player than Britt by the end of the season and no-one should be put in his way to hold that progress back. Maybe this solves a selection headache?

Yes he's young and we should temper expectations, but if you're good enough you're old enough and boy did he look good enough at times last season. After being robbed of the chance to see Oliver Burke for long, I'd love to have a season of Brereton in a Forest shirt. You'd hope that he'd rather get games under his belt that rot in a vast Premier League squad too.

With the bitter experience Burke, and before him Michail Antonio, it'd be easy to become downhearted at a third summer transfer window in a row in which a star player is sold off. Yet this departure feels different. The club has negotiated the best price it could - given the release clause in his contract - and sold on a player who wanted to go. From what we're led to believe, Mark Warburton knew of this decision and has worked with the new structure at the club to draw up a list of replacements. In comparison to those last two big summer sales - in which we were subjected to Antonio being withdrawn from selection and finally sold on deadline day and Burke flogged behind the manager's back with no plan for a replacement - it's a case of so far so good.

Now, however, comes the first big test of the new managerial structure. Clubs will know we've got a bit of cash to play with and our rivals will be shopping in the same market. We'll soon see how much of that money is re-invested, how good Frank McParland's contacts book is and what sort of player we're able to attract. It isn't about who you sell - it's about what you do to replace them that matters most.

Britt might have his critics - and his faults - but I enjoyed watching him in a Forest shirt. His goals against Derby, his cheeky charm and ruthless streak, his fairytale finish against MK Dons and his swansong against Ipswich will all leave fond memories. You can hardly blame him for going to a club which should challenge for the title and which will certainly increase his pay packet.

We now need to build a club that doesn't have to sell star players, especially to sides in the same division. If we're sitting here next year without a fourth successive big name departure, we'll know that progress is being made. We also need to do something that this club hasn't always been great at doing - and replace a key player in a way that doesn't affect the team. The new regime offers promise that we can achieve this but it won't be easy. Those in charge at the club can at least take inspiration from Fulham's last year.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Forest Five Asides: Cummings and goings, the magic number, fixtures, Worrall

Here we are, slap bang in the middle of the off season - a time when a picture of some grass or a lick of paint on the stand is lapped up as the nearest we're going to get when it comes to news. Yet things aren't totally silent on the banks of the Trent. Here's my latest 'five asides'...


For starters, we've already made our first signing of the summer. The capture of Jason Cummings from Hibs is refreshing for many reasons.

Firstly, it's done and dusted nice and early and doesn't come after a tawdry game of cat and mouse and a couple of 'derisory' bids to test the water (or alert our rivals to the target's availability). It's also a fairly low fee - given the going rate for strikers at our level these days - for a player clearly known to Mark Warburton and Frank McParland from their days north of the border.

Cummings looks to be a confident character and should relish the chance to prove himself in England after 20-plus goals in each of his last three seasons in Edinburgh. At 21 (he'll be 22 by the time the season kicks off), he's also an up and coming player who can fit nicely into the squad we're trying to build and a far cry from the Bendtner-style vanity signings of the previous regimes.

....and goings?

The transfer rumour mill is in full flow. Amid the torrent of tiresome fake 'in the know' accounts and the duff clickbait gossip it's hard to work out which transfer titbits are genuine. Still, it does appear that Middlesbrough - with parachute payments burning a hole in their pockets - are interested in Britt Assombalonga. It'll be interesting to see if they do bid and, indeed, how serious their offer is.

Personally, I resigned myself to the fact that this might well be the window when Ben Brereton is snapped up by a Premier League club some time ago. We couldn't really stand in his way if that were the case - especially given that he was in the youth set up at Manchester United and Stoke before coming to us. He's destined for the top flight, with or without us.

I'd be gutted if either of those two left. Britt has a proven track record at this level and it'd be nice to see at least some of Ben's progress in a Forest shirt. Still, we have to be realistic. We survived by the skin of our teeth last season and might still need to make some money to avoid another FFP embargo while the new management team gets to grips with the mess they inherited. On and off the pitch we're not in a position to compete once a certain calibre of club joins the race.

If either did go, it'd be important to show some patience. It wasn't so much the sale of Oliver Burke itself that annoyed me last season - it was the fact it was done in a way that gave the manager no chance to plan to replace him. If Warburton loses a star, he needs the time, money and support to find a suitable successor. You'd like to think the Marinakis regime would give him that.

I wouldn't be surprised if we saw interest in Ben Osborn this summer either. Newcastle have apparently kept tabs on his progress and will have a decent transfer kitty to play with.

The magic number

Still, let's not dwell on all of that just yet. Want a positive? How about the fact that Huddersfield Town finished the 2015/16 season on 51 points and are now plotting trips to Old Trafford, Anfield et al? Fulham finished the same season with 51 points and also made last season's play offs. That just so happens to be the points total we amassed last season.

While I think it'd be far fetched to suggest we should aim for anything more than mid table in a tough division - both Huddersfield and Fulham have shown that you can quickly make progress at this level if everything clicks.

It's also worth remembering that we netted 62 goals last season - which is more than either Huddersfield or Sheffield Wednesday scored in their play-off campaigns. Just a shame about the 72 conceded at the other end eh?

Awaiting the fixture list

Tomorrow morning sees the release of the 2017/18 fixtures. It's the day when we all get a little too excited about the order in which we'll have to play every team twice, subject to Sky buggering it all up. Still, I'll freely admit that I always get caught up in the hype, especially when sniffing out the chance for a cheeky away day. If the computer could deliver nice convenient dates for games at Barnsley and Hull that'd be great. Yep, I know how to live...

Captain Marvel

It's worth ending with some praise for Joe Worrall. Fresh from a breakthrough season at the City Ground, he did us all proud by captaining England Under 20s as they won the Toulon Tournament in Provence. Joe was also named in the team of the tournament and was officially the competition's second best player.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, Joe also told the
“I’ve played a lot of first-team football this season which put me in good stead to come here and captain England, which I didn’t think I’d do but of course I’m very proud to have done that. 
“So to captain England is brilliant, it’ll give me more experience to go back to Forest and maybe get the armband there one day."
It's great to hear Joe talk with such passion about the club and the armband surely beckons if he can continue his progress next term.

I'm excited to see just how good he can be - and intrigued to see who might be next off Gary Brazil's conveyer belt of talent.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Marinakis makes postive impression with both actions and words

The bitter experience of the last five years has turned us into an odd bunch of fans hasn't it? Most sets of supporters who crave a takeover probably want to hear their new owners talk about spending big in the transfer market, with grand plans and big targets. We, on the other hand, went misty-eyed at the mention of a chief commercial officer, chairman and CEO.

This sweet sensation of structure, having been a rudderless ship in rocky waters for five long years, meant that Evangelos Marinakis and Sokratis Kominakis announced their arrival at the club this week with immediate action, not just words. With one statement they managed to put in place a professional-looking hierarchy for the club, something Fawaz and co never seriously managed.

While I'm not going to pretend I know Nicholas Randall, Ioannis Vrentzos or David Cook, their biographies show that they are people with real substance who know both how to run football clubs and how to run commercially successful operations. Both of these fundamental skills were completely absent under the old regime. In some respects this trio, alongside Sam Gordon, have a blank canvas on which to build a new business and, with their credentials, should quickly be able to make an impact.

In fact, in many ways, they already have. Remarkably we're heading into the summer with a shirt sponsor, a clear drive to sell season tickets (with a savvy discount for the existing supporters) and a new home shirt launched and up for sale. Again, fans of other clubs probably look on from afar with amazement that these things are such a big deal but, alas, that's where we're at. The tone and frequency of the promotional emails I began to receive after Gordon's appointment can only have helped to boost attendances and demonstrated a much-needed professionalism.

Marinakis' words were also encouraging. Yes, he clearly wants to get to the Premier League but he made no daft promises about when we might achieve a return to the top flight and he appeared to have understood the scale of the challenge if we're to match his ambitions.

On the playing side of things we have a manager and director of football in place who have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the current paying squad - as well as an appreciation of what is needed to succeed in this division. Both seem to have been drafted in with a fair bit of input from the new Greek ownership, meaning that we won't have to go through more managerial upheaval now that we're under new ownership (something that completely ruined Birmingham's 2016/17 campaign).

You only need to re-wind 12 months to appreciate what a difference this all makes. While we might have ended the campaign on a mild high - with a joyous returning goal from Britt Assombalonga - we went into the summer with no manager, no CEO, no scouting network and no plan to recruit new players as we emerged from a long transfer embargo. The summer was dominated by the attempted takeover - by Marinakis - and we were left with a slightly haphazard attempt to embrace a new continental style managerial structure with Philippe Montanier and Pedro Pereira, which was doomed to fail while Fawaz remained at the helm.

This time, we have a manager and director of football who don't need time to adjust to the division and the time and infrastructure required to have a more strategic approach to the transfer window. None of that means success is certain - but we've witnessed what happens without these foundations in place.

Indeed, we've all seen that the general off-field failure of the Fawaz era completely undermined any of his stated ambitions on the pitch. I've long thought that, no matter what we've seen in the last couple of seasons, we're further away from being a Premier League outfit off the field than we are on it.

Marinakis' statements seem to show that, while he knows he can't guarantee becoming a Premier League team next season, he can put in place the foundations that mean we start to look like a Premier League club in waiting off the field. He's reaching out to the wider community to listen to fans, businesses and academics in the city - rather than just seeing what people are saying on Twitter - and wants to bring former players 'into the tent'. You'd imagine that's not just a sop to the fans - but also a smart PR move to involve people with a big media profile who could otherwise end up being vocal critics.

Some fans, rightly, are nervous about the allegations previously levelled against Marinakis. Indeed, it does appear that questions about his activity in Greece got in the way of him buying the club last year. We shouldn't condemn someone who hasn't been, to my knowledge, found guilty of an offence but nor should we ignore the need for some caution amid the joy of Fawaz's departure.

The Fawaz years ought to have taught us not to take everything we're told at face value and to challenge the club to deliver on its promises. While what we've seen so far has undoubtedly been impressive, it's still worth being vigilant with the people in charge. Through the advisory council, fans have the opportunity to have a voice and this needs to be used in a constructive way. Fans can be critical where necessary while still being supportive of the club and treading this fine line well could be as key to the long-term success of this new regime as anything else.

Still, while we shouldn't allow ourselves to get completely carried away, there are plenty of reasons to feel positive. We have the right manager (who wants to play attractive football) and the beginnings of a good squad who, together, managed to just about secure our status in the second tier. They will be supported by a director of football with a track record for astute buys and a football club that looks set to be operating on a professional footing at long last.

Next season won't be easy. All three relegated clubs should be strong at this level, Sheffield United and Bolton should be better than Wigan and Rotherham and the likes of Villa, Derby, Leeds and Cardiff will all be expecting to come stronger. The target for the club, as Marinakis says, has to be to be better than last season. That means we're likely to need to improve substantially even to make modest gains in our league standing.

We've got a long way to go to get where we want to be but, for now at least, we should be buoyed by the fact that everything is in place to at least start the journey. Let's hope that this time next season we're even more optimistic about the future of the club.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Heaven knows I'm not miserable now: Smith's stunning save sets up vital win

Jordan Smith, take a bow. The outpouring of relief that greeted Forest's safety-securing 3-0 win on Sunday might well not have been possible without the 22-year-old stopper's intervention.

I'm sure you'll all have seen it by now but it's worth stressing just how good his save at 0-0 was. Smith has looked remarkably assured for a man who only made his Football League debut on February 11, but this was something truly special and deserves to be remembered for a long time to come. The way he contorted to adjust to Dominic Samuel's deflected effort and claw the ball onto the bar with his left hand was sensational. Mark Warburton felt it was world class.

In a season full of rising stars, Smith shouldn't be ignored. We really don't need to go shopping for a replacement for Dorus De Vries any more, Jordan looks the real deal and the unlucky Stephen Henderson will have to make do with being his deputy.

Anyone who thinks that our safety was never in doubt on Sunday is kidding themselves. With news coming in that Blackburn and Birmingham were both ahead, the impact of a goal for Ipswich could have been devastating for our fragile confidence levels. Especially since we had looked disjointed after having to take Muzzy Carayol off through injury early on. Jordan's fingertips kept us in the fight and set up everything that followed.

Britt Assombalonga then seized the moment by stepping up when we needed him most. His penalty calmed nerves on and off the pitch and he then came out in the second half with the bit between his teeth. Not even a missed spot kick could knock him off course as he dusted himself off and thundered in his second of the match - and 30th goal for Forest - soon after to set the seal on an excellent win. He was purposeful, powerful and tireless in working for the cause, leaving high hopes for more of the same next season.

But, in between Britt strikes, came another big moment to savour. You can't fail to be overjoyed for Chris Cohen. There must have been some dark moments during the long road back from each of his three serious knee injuries but here he was with a well-earned day in the sun. His left footed strike might have been deflected, but it whistled past Bartosz Bialkowski in emphatic fashion and sent the vast majority of the 28,249 crowd into raptures. As moments go, it was reminiscent of Julian Bennett's piledriver against Yeovil.

Joe Worrall headed and kicked everything, Jamie Ward was a pest and earned two penalties and David Vaughan came into the game in the second half to add composure when and where we needed it.

I tweeted at half time that Jordan Smith's save might turn out to be the most important since Shilton's title-winning heroics at Highfield Road. Of course, we won't really know the significance of this result until further down the line. Sunday has the potential to be the launching pad for a better future if we can take the bull by the horns in the summer. We've got the makings of a decent squad, a good manager/director of football combination and the prospect of more professional ownership on its way. Sunday's game was an opportunity to secure Championship status; this summer is the opportunity to start making proper progress towards a better future.

For now though, it's time to breathe a sigh of relief and reflect on the positives of the completed rescue mission. There are some killjoys who will tell you that survival isn't much to celebrate. It is when it was so perilously close to being lost, however. And it all started with 'that' wondrous save...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Fragile Forest need to find some fight for 'Survival Sunday'

Well, that's another fine mess we've landed ourselves in. With a depressing familiarity, Forest slumped to an away defeat at QPR and left us facing a nerve-biting 'Survival Sunday' clash against Ipswich. Two threads have been constant amid the chaos of 2016/17: a failure to capitalise on good results against big teams at home and an inability to dig out a result away from home. Both continued at Loftus Road and both could yet cost us our place in the Championship.

Sunday's clash is the biggest game at the City Ground for some time. Indeed, the last play-off semi-final against Swansea six years ago probably wasn't quite so pivotal. It threatens to be a nerve jangling affair, especially given the prospect that we could, technically, win and still go down. Indeed, it could even pan out that both us and Blackburn lose and we still switch places.

But, freak permutations aside, this is one last chance for us to earn our place in the second tier for next season. We've blown the golden opportunity to bury Blackburn at home and the chance to win at QPR and make life more straightforward. In a season defined by missed opportunities - on the field and off it - this one really has to be taken. Momentum is with a resurgent Rovers but we do, still, have home advantage in our game (thank goodness), a better goal difference and the benefit of having scored more goals if it comes to that.

However, I don't know about you but I'm not overly confident. The fact that the game is on Sky and a 'Kids for a Quid' fixture only ramps up the pressure. It's probably a sentiment that rests more on fear than fact but neither strike me as positive omens. Memory of our performances in the 'big occasion' play-off home games weighs heavy too.

More importantly, however, is the fact that this is a fragile team that has frozen on so many occasions this season. After the kamikaze early days under Montanier faded, we've often looked overcome by panic and dread when we've gone behind in games. Ipswich aren't a great side, let's be honest, but they probably have all of the attributes that we lack. They're organised, tough, streetwise and are a more coherent team put together by an astute manager. They've only won the same amount of games as us this season yet they've earned enough draws to be clear of safety. Yes, they lost to Rotherham and have been beaten by Lincoln this season, but they also recently put Newcastle to the sword. If we let the occasion get the better of us on Sunday, they can easily punish us.

Indeed, a friend of mine said a few weeks ago that he feared a Luke Chambers and David McGoldrick inspired victory on the final day, two ghosts from the past coming back to haunt us in the worst possible way. Maybe it'd be apt if Mick McCarthy, a man who turned down Fawaz right at the start of his tenure, were to put the final nail in the coffin at the end of his failed ownership?

Of course, it has been suggested that Evangelos Marinakis will be taking over regardless of what happens on the pitch against Ipswich. There's perhaps even a train of thought that suggests that relegation wouldn't, therefore, be the disaster that it would be under Fawaz. That's a dangerous mentality.

Firstly, there's absolutely no guarantee that we'd come straight back up. We didn't last time and neither did the likes of Sheffield United. For every Bolton, Leicester and Norwich there are plenty of examples of clubs who have floundered in the third tier. League One was a heck of a slog last time - there's nothing to suggest that it won't be just as tough again. It'd be far better, in my view, to build ourselves up in this league as Brighton, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday have all done.

Secondly, let's not get carried away about Marinakis. Would relegation really not matter to him? Until the deal is signed and Fawaz is finally gone nothing should be taken for granted. The events of the last year should show that. Surely the only attraction of buying Forest is the vague prospect of getting the club up to the rich boys playground of the Premier League anyway? Maybe there's no risk that the sale will fall through, I'd rather us not create an excuse for it to do so though.

Finally, the core of young talent at the club might well be broken up by a relegation. We lost the Paul Hart academy core before, let's not allow the Brazil generation to be scattered across other clubs. I'm tired of having to be happy for our prospects when they thrive elsewhere - it's time that we built a club and a team fit to capitalise on the academy's ground work. The vultures are circling, safety makes it easier to get rid of them.

Yet, oddly, you do feel that there's light at the end of the tunnel if we could somehow stumble over the finish line. This manager, with this batch of young players and fresh ownership (with the right structure and backing) could well put us on a positive course. This team is more talented than the miserable Megson flops but it just lacks some key characteristics. On the days when it clicks, we can all see that there is 'something' there - but the current situation risks stamping out that spark of promise before it can develop. We're at a big crossroads and Sunday might well decide which path is taken.

One of the main problems is that Warburton has a big squad but little resembling a balanced team to pick from the mishmash of players he has inherited. Yes, there's plenty of talent, but there are also lots of flaws - with many players lacking experience, fitness, form or all three.

It's such a shame that the post-embargo shopping has been so awful. Indeed, our transfers were probably better when constrained by the FFP straitjacket. It says much about the club that only one of the five January deadline signings is in with a chance of starting on Sunday. That window was one of the many, many missed opportunities we've had - a chance to shop for players to plug gaps in the playing staff not waste time and money on ridiculous loanees like Joao Texeira who will never see the light of day.

Still, it remains the case that there should, just about, be an eleven in there with the ability to overcome Ipswich. The question might be whether or not we're ready mentally to overcome the occasion. There will be much talk in the build up to the game about this being like a 'cup final' yet the stakes are higher. Defeat won't just bring the disappointment of a missed opportunity (another one) but could define the club for years to come.

There is of course one other hope. Maybe Mark Warburton's good work with Brentford will have laid the foundations for his old side to beat Blackburn and do him a favour? The sad truth is that this might be the best card left in our hand on Sunday. Still, I'm not fussy. Safety, however it comes, is all that matters.

A nervous week awaits before the big game - for everyone from the players to those of us who persist with this daft old club come rain or shine. We can, of course, do our bit on the day to roar them on. There's a chance to seize the moment and create an occasion that we can look back on as a turning point. It could be a day for young guns to come of age and to set off into the sunset for a positive future. The grim alternative is the stuff of nightmares and might well give us a few sleepless nights in the next week.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Forest Five Asides: QPR, Marinakis, Mancienne, Lichaj, Villa

Starting a new blog format at the end of a season might not be the brightest idea I've ever had but, nevertheless, I'm doing it anyway. My new 'Five Asides' posts will aim to give a short, sharp views on five key talking points to fit between longer rants/posts. Well, that's the theory anyway.

Any comments, thoughts or suggestions are always welcome...

QPR and the ghost of Megson

The trip to Loftus Road tomorrow brings back bad memories of the last time we were relegated to League One. The 2-1 defeat in West London put the final nail in the coffin, confirming our pathetic demise. Worst of all, I went down to the game on a supporters' bus that had the BBC's Natalie Jackson among its passengers. It meant that we had to hang around in a car park while she conducted her post match interviews, leaving us to stew and fester for a while on the fact we'd fallen through the trap door before we could go home. It was grim. No-one was really in the mood for a 'looking forward to League One' vox pop on the way back either - it was time to pretend to sleep.

The fact that QPR is our penultimate game this season too isn't, of course, the only parallel with that last relegation under Gary Megson. The Derby home and away results were identical in 04/05, Rotherham also went down that year and it was also a season in which just two away wins were earned (those, like the two this season, were also both in the same week).

The positive thing is that we now have a better manager and a better team. The 04/05 lineup was: Gerrard, Curtis, Morgan, Taylor, Melville, Robertson, Evans, Powell, Gardner, Commons, Dobie. If we can stumble over the line, there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

The ghosts of 04/05, our record against Holloway teams (3 wins in 15) and the pitiful away form this season mean that I still can't rest easy when it comes to survival though.

Takeover talk as the Greeks wait in the wings

It seems that the takeover of the club is edging closer - although it also seems like we've been saying that for some time. Sky Sports today reported the fact that Fawaz is going to sell the club to Evangelos Marinakis but it's not really clear if this was based on anything that we didn't already know from other media outlets. ('Sky Sources' covers a multitude of sins doesn't it?) 

There are question marks over the Greek investor, of course, but the fact that he's run a club - and a big one at that - suggests that things should surely be better under him than the current regime. We've had a lot of false dawns, let's hope this isn't another. The club is at a crossroads - again. Survival and new ownership could give us a huge boost going into the summer but neither is certain.

Need to be convinced by Mancienne

I'll admit that I'm not exactly bowled over by the news of Michael Mancienne's new contract. I wouldn't have been at all bothered if we'd have let him go when his deal came to an end in the summer. He's got a great pedigree but I've been disappointed with his performances and always worry that we'll concede a goal from a cross when he's in the lineup. The fact that he's struggled to establish himself - even over a converted-to-centre-half Danny Fox - isn't a ringing endorsement either.

It is a positive, however, that he appears to have taken a pay cut (since he was rumoured to be on £25k a week or so) and it might well be the case that Warburton can get more out of him and utilise his talents in his style of play. One thing is for certain - we've got to stop messing about with him in midfield.

Eric The Red deserves the crown

While voting for the official 'player of the season' carries on until Wednesday, many supporters club branches seem to have opted for Eric Lichaj as their choice and the American will surely take the main crown too? It might seem odd to say that in a season in which our defensive record has been so poor but I do think Eric deserves the nod. He's been consistent, has given his all and provided leadership at times when things threatened to go off the rails. He looks like he loves to play for us, provides a decent attacking threat when given the chance and has even bagged a couple of goals. Frankly, we could with a couple more characters like him.

Who are the only other contenders? David Vaughan? Ben Osborn?

Let's hope the award isn't as much of a curse as it has been in recent times, though. Of those last five winners, Garath McCleary, Michail Antonio and Dorus de Vries all left pretty quickly, while Chris Cohen and Andy Reid both suffered serious injuries not long after earning the title.

Would Villa's fans rather they lost?

Aston Villa did us a decent favour by beating Birmingham on Sunday. Interestingly, having put their city rivals in the mire, they now travel to Blackburn to take on the team directly below the Blues. I wonder how many Villains actually want their side to lose tomorrow to pile more misery onto Harry Redknapp's men? For our sake, let's hope the team isn't 'on the beach' anyway (although it worries me that the influential Mile Jedinak looks set to be missing for them). The hope same goes for Huddersfield, who go into their game against Birmingham merely waiting for the play-offs to begin.

I really don't want a nerve-jangling last day and, while I appreciate that we need to pull our finger out and get the job done ourselves, any more favours will be more than gratefully accepted.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Pinillos peach plunders sweet point as Warburton plots Forest rescue mission

It was the new haircut that did it. Perhaps. Daniel Pinillos, the freshly shaven headed Spaniard, headed home the sweetest of injury time headers to let loose a roar of joy and relief around the City Ground. Muchas gracias Dani.

Maybe one day, we'll view the Pinillos goal in the same vein as 'that' Blackstock finish against Bristol City. There's still a long way to go - but it certainly felt like an important moment. Not least because it helped to ensure we didn't face a two week international break consigned to the bottom three to lick our wounds.

New boss Mark Warburton now needs to use the next fortnight to plot how he'll keep us out of the drop zone come May. He'll have plenty to ponder after a fiery first taste of the East Midlands derby.

In some respects, he can save himself a lot of research time by just re-watching this game as it pretty much summed up the season so far. Energy, endeavour and promise followed by a lack of ruthlessness, little or no control and an underlying fragility all mixed in with just enough spirit to give us hope of avoiding a bigger mess.

While we didn't create bucket loads of chances in the first half, we had at least approached a game of this magnitude with the right mindset. The experience and guile of Cohen and Vaughan gave us a good launching pad and the twinkle-toed talents of Zach Clough were there for all to see. What a player he could be and what a joy it is to be cheering Clough goals at the City Ground again. Not least in 'El Cloughico'. Apt indeed.

Ben Brereton also took to his task impressively. Stationed on the right, he ensured that Martin Olsson - a classy player who has tormented us in these fixtures the past - was given a big test all afternoon. It's performances like these that convince me that Ben is destined for bigger things. The maturity and skill he showed, despite being 'out of position', belied his tender years. At times in the second half, he was the only hope we had to cling to. You can't help feeling (and fearing) that he'll very quickly be too good for this level.

The subplot to the game had, of course, been the arrival of new men at the helm of each side. Gary Rowett's presence in the away dugout was especially intriguing since he was said to have been the man that John Jay Moores and co would've installed as Forest boss if Fawaz hadn't pulled the plug on the takeover. This could have ended up as one long 'this is what you could've won' cruel Bullseye-esque display, although that was somewhat diluted by our own capture of Warburton.

Rowett certainly rallied his troops well at half time. They came out for the second half with the sort of energy and drive that we'd showed in the opening 45 minutes - and we now froze and showed exactly why we're so dangerously close to bottom three, with a performance suddenly strewn with errors and nerves. Vaughan and Cohen struggled to regain control and Russell, Johnson, Bryson and Ince stepped up their influence, smelling blood.

No-one was surprised at the identity of the scorer of the equaliser surely? Matej Vydra now has eight goals in seven games against us - more than he's scored against any other team. When David Nugent doubled the advantage I can't have been the only one fearing the worst.

The frustration at having let our grip on the game slip boiled over when the superb Clough was taken off, to be replaced by Ross McCormack. His removal did seem a little premature - and the Villa loanee certainly struggled to fill his void - but the jeers that greeted the substitution were harsh on Warburton. Still, let's put that down to the heat of the moment, in the context of a game and a season that were slipping away before our eyes. In a far-from-ideal world, far-from-ideal things happen.

Luckily, a defeat that then seemed inevitable didn't materialise. The fact that it didn't was down to a few key factors.

First, came Jordan Smith's intervention. He made a couple of crucial saves to minimise the deficit - the best coming from an Alex Pearce header. Like Brereton, he's come in and looked like he's already been in the team for ten years. With him and Henderson, there's no need to go shopping for goalkeepers this summer.

Next, enter Matty Cash. Unfairly maligned by some in recent weeks, Cash came on to give us fresh legs in place of Cohen. But 'fresh legs' is an understatement. He came on like a man possessed, pressing players and driving forward with the ball, pushing us on for that one last chance and grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. He was instrumental in the move that led to the goal and deserves great credit for his energetic cameo.

Apostolos Vellios also made a difference when replacing an out of sorts Assombalonga. He was close to writing his own name into folklore with a superb turn and shot that struck the inside of the post.

Smith, Cash and Vellios all did their bit, but it was up to Ben Osborn and Pinillos to seal the dramatic late point. Osborn whipped in an inviting dead ball, Pinillos did the rest. Cue pandemonium and surely the best full length of the pitch goalkeeping celebration from a Forest player since Mark Crossley against Spurs in the cup.

Warburton has much to sort, but he'll have known that anyway. He needs a fit Eric Lichaj for a start and the return of Jamie Ward from suspension - both of which might have given us more balance, solidity and experience (despite my reservations about Ward). On top of that he needs to try to engineer a threat from the flanks. Brereton did well on Saturday but his long term future lies in the middle. The new boss will need to try to get something from Carayol or the lesser spotted Ariyibi or Texeira - even if it's just as subs to help stretch a game.

There's also the question of Assombalonga. He might look in poor form but, equally, I can't remember us creating a proper chance for him in a while. Britt's a player who thrives off getting goals. You feel that if he can get one, he'd have a spring in his step with his build up play.

What can be done with McCormack too? He's got the talent to fire us to safety, but we're yet to look like we have a clue how to use him. Is fellow Villa loanee Tshibola ever going to be fit for the battle? How do we kill games off when we're on top? What can we do to keep more clean sheets? How can we turnaround the torrid away form.

Good luck with all of that Mark. That's some in tray with just eight games to go. In the meantime we'll be staving off the boredom of the international weekend by watching that equaliser on loop.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Bye Bye Nicklas Bendtner, let's hope you're the last of your kind

With very little fanfare, Nicklas Bendtner drifted off to Norway this week to end a fairly forgettable six-month stint at the City Ground. Despite the big billing, he leaves as another failed 'vanity signing' and a symbol of misguided transfer planning.

Never mind the Lord's Prayer. With 'Lord' Bendtner amid our ranks, we were left praying that the enigmatic Dane would actually run about and at least look interested. The success of the transfer always rested on whether or not he could channel his undoubted natural talent and provide the squad with a talisman after being cruelly robbed of seeing more of Oliver Burke.

Yet, while Gary Brazil might have chosen to be polite about Bendtner this week, it was clear to all involved that the former Arsenal man wasn't good enough to earn a start. Not good enough for a side in the bottom third of the Championship and definitely not good enough to get in ahead of 17-year-old sensation Ben Brereton.

By all rights, Bendtner should be embarrassed by that. However good Brereton is - and let's not alert too many prying eyes to his talent just yet - he surely should've been striving to show him, and Championship defenders, why he was a cut above this level of football. By the end of his time on Trentside you could make a case that Assombalonga, McCormack, Brereton, Clough, and Vellios were all ahead of him in the pecking order. Indeed, even the lesser-spotted Matty Fryatt was in danger of overtaking him. Bendtner did have injuries, sure, but who at the club hasn't?

That there was a collective shrug of the shoulders among fans shows you how little impact the Dane had in his time at the club. Yet, while the transfer to Rosenborg was best for all involved, I can't help hoping that lessons are learned from this episode.

The 'vanity signings' have to stop. There should be no more Bendtners and plenty more players in the mould of Zach Clough. Nicklas wasn't the first. In the past we've turned to the likes of Andy Cole and Neil Lennon when they've long gone past their sell by date. The less said about David Pl**t's three Italians the better. More recently, Federico Macheda was surely only signed because of memories of his early promise under Manchester United? Then there was Chuba Akpom. He might have been an Arsenal player on paper but he's surely got as much chance of being a full team regular there as I have.

Players like these just waste resources and halt the progress of good young players. If Brereton or Tyler Walker, say, come in and make a mistake then at least they might learn from that and improve. When these players make a mistake they're just wasting everyone's time.

Bendtner is in danger of turning into a travelling circus, a journeyman who people just roll up to laugh at and check out how bad he's become but at least, for now, his reputation was enough to get him a move. You never know, he might enjoy a cushy little number in Norway. If he'd have fancied it, surely our club offered him a great opportunity to prove himself though?

The fact he was reportedly on £1.3 million a year here (or about £25,000 a week) was only surprising in the sense that I feared it would have been higher. Big numbers have lost their meaning in the mad world of football haven't they? The main worry is that Philippe Montanier previously said that Bendtner wasn't the highest paid member of the squad. Lord knows (not Bendtner, the other one) how much we're wasting on some players.

January showed little sign that the transfer policy has become more sensible, especially in the case of Joao Texeira. It would sum Forest up if we go through all of the hassle of 'sub loaning' a player from another club and then never actually deploy him in a match. I've also wondered whether we put much thought into whether or not we'd be able to field Clough and McCormack in the same team.

I hope the arrival of Frank McParland as director of football in recent days is the first step in the right direction, although I'm not holding my breath with Fawaz's track record. We need a much more strategic and sensible approach to transfers. First and foremost, players should only be brought in if they offer something different to what we already have coming through the academy production line. Even then, young, hungry talent from this level and those below should be snapped up, along with one or two experienced leaders who have the desire and talent to still offer something to the team. It's not rocket science, but it isn't seemingly obvious to Fawaz.

So, good luck in Norway Nicklas. If you bump into Jon Olav Hjelde do say hello. He'd probably have been a better bet up front than you.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Wigan and Burton: Two tough six pointers for Brazil

When Bristol City arrived in town at the end of January it was said that it was the first 'proper' six pointer of the season. Thanks to Ben Osborn's Le Tissier-esque free kick, Gary Brazil successfully navigated that test. He followed that up in the next home game with another important win against a slightly more doomed relegation rival in Rotherham. Now, however, comes the tougher test of two away six pointers, either side of back to back home games from second place Brighton and Brentford.

We head into the Wigan game having had the optimism of three home wins eroded. It always looked a tough ask to take on play-off contenders Norwich, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday in a week and so it proved with three defeats. Even if we'd been doing well this season, that would have been a tricky trio of fixtures.

That nightmare week has left us just six points clear of Wigan who, luckily for us, squandered a chance to make up ground by losing at QPR in their game in hand this week. They'll no doubt be smarting from that and relishing the chance to climb out of the bottom three. Not only that but they'll be buoyed by the fact that they've already put us to the sword in the FA Cup in a game that not only helped to end their own seven-match winless run but marked a real low point in the dying days of the Montanier regime.

Yet the main worry ahead of Saturday's six pointer comes from our appalling record on the road in 2016/17. As Soccerstats shows, if the table were drawn on away games alone, we'd be second bottom.

Luckily, if you did the same spilt for home form, we'd be 10th and, promisingly, Wigan are the worst home team in the whole division. Two wins in 17 away for us is, however, a big concern and raises questions about our ability to handle both this game and the trip to Burton in a couple of weeks.

Our only two away wins so far - Ipswich and Barnsley - came in the same week and featured three centre halves. I'm not necessarily sure that we have to revert to that style but it does show that Philippe had come to realise the need to try to add some resolve and defensive steel to a side leaking far too many goals. We need a solid base, bags of hard work and the right determination to try to avoid a crushing defeat.

Tactically, these away games are the biggest test of Gary Brazil's managerial career. From the day Montanier left until now I remain convinced that Kenny Jackett would've been a smart choice to steer us away from danger but that question is over, for now. Brazil, Jack Lester and Rob Page need a pragmatic game plan. Dare I say it, even some vague inspiration from the Dougie Freedman playbook? We have to try to win the midfield battle and that might well mean packing the middle of the park to avoid getting overran. If we're going to use Matty Cash then we need his energy in the middle, not being wasted out wide, while David Vaughan is an absolute must - Montanier's mistake of wrapping him in cotton wool can't be repeated. I'd take Vaughan on one leg over Kasami, frankly.

Brazil and co have got to fashion a side that's tough to beat amid yet another injury crisis (something that may well mean fielding three central defenders isn't possible anyway) and out of a mismash of a squad.

Don't get me wrong, Fawaz's January supermarket sweep brought in some quality players but it was the footballing equivalent of nipping to the shops when you're in a rush and hungry. You can come home with some of what you want but you can also buy things you don't need too.

Can we play Ross McCormack and Zach Clough play in the same line up? How do they fit in with Britt and Brereton? These might not be bad problems to have but have we got time to work all of this out?

Then there's the arrival of the wing wonders Gboly Ariyibi and Joao Teixeira, neither of whom have seen the light of day. I'm willing to accept that Ariyibi is one for the future, but who takes out a 'sub-loan' of a player that they don't seem to have a plan to use?

I know people often say that 'our squad should be higher in the table' but the problem with that is that we haven't once landed on a consistent 'winning team' out of that squad.

The haphazard nature of it all is, of course, indicative of the ill thought out nature of the way Fawaz 'runs' the club. Having been turned down by several managerial targets he has also settled on sticking with Brazil and co until the end of the season. This 'appointment' is, like the signings, a handy way to try to deflect criticism of his shambolic handling of the club. There's a distinct lack of activity in building a structure behind the scenes, one month on from the last round of hollow promises.

The youth structure and the 'pathway' to the first team is pretty much the only thing working at the club at the minute. For that, Brazil deserves our respect and support as he wrestles with first team duties. That surely isn't in doubt. Everyone desperately wants Brazil to succeed and he ought have a prominent role in the future of the club on and off the field regardless of what happens to the managerial position. For now, though, the focus is on the short term and in making sure that his preparation work isn't geared towards getting promoted back from League One.

If we were to get our act together and get good results in these two key away games then it'd be a huge boost to our survival chances. On average, taking the numbers from the last ten seasons, 46 points would have been enough to secure safety. You'd like a few more than that to be sure (in 2013 and 2008 55 and 53 points were needed) but once we're past that point I'd feel an awful lot more relaxed about young players being blooded in.

Before we get there, Gary Brazil needs a couple of rabbits out of the hat. If he does that, we'll have yet another thing to thank him for. If he doesn't then we'll face an almighty scrap, with four of the last six home games against top six contenders. No pressure then Gary...

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Clough dilemma: Fans and Nigel both torn over job approach

Nigel Clough has got a dilemma this weekend. Does he ask for permission to have talks with Forest, a job he's apparently long fancied a crack at? Or does he stick by Burton Albion and try to finish the job of keeping the Brewers in the second tier?

Yet, he's not the only one with a dilemma. Many Forest fans seem torn over whether or not they want him to take charge of the club. How will we feel in either scenario.

Nigel Clough on the touchline at the City Ground
(Photo: Diego Sideburns, Flickr)
It's a tough one isn't it? First of all, I'm a huge fan of Nigel Clough. Even if you set aside his family name, this is a man who is our second best scorer of all time. He is a genuine Forest legend and deserves our total respect. The 'non-league Nigel' stuff thrown about in the heat of the battle when he was Derby manager must be consigned to the past.

Some people felt a little let down by his behaviour as Derby boss but that's probably more a reaction to the fact that we didn't like seeing 'our number nine' show passion with a ruddy ram on his jacket. Paul Severn summed it up the rivalry for Seat Pitch back in 2013:
Clough displayed the same fierce will to win as Derby manager and the fixture took a more explosive context, rather than a thaw that might have been expected with a Forest favourite managing Derby. Billy Davies was keen to pay back Derby for his sacking and Clough was in no mood to surrender easy points. After a number of ugly derby-day incidents, Clough’s popularity amongst Forest fans plummeted. Perhaps the feeling was mutual. And what made things worse was that Clough proved rather adept at beating Forest. And it hurt.
Given what we've seen of Billy Davies it is perhaps no wonder that he relished taking the man on and beating him so much.

Whether that rivalry upset you or not, it's over now and it's time to move on. The reception he got when he returned at Burton Albion was heartwarming and if you doubt what the club means to the man then just watch him talk about his time at Forest:

Yet, does that all mean we should leave things as they are? It would be a shame if taking charge of the club somehow diminished or damaged the reputation he deserves. Worse still, it'd be a crying shame if he was only being approached to be manager to deflect attention away from the owner.

Nigel deserves better than to be ringmaster of the Fawaz circus and Fawaz doesn't deserve to get off the hook so easily. There's no doubt that the focus would certainly move away from the ownership if the Clough family legacy were to be continued on Trentside. It would, after all, make for a 'good story'.

Then there's the question of Nigel's managerial credentials, which some feel are modest.

While it's fair to say Nigel might not have had the greatest success in his time in the dugout, he is someone who has experience of operating in the second tier on a shoestring budget, both at Derby and Burton. At Derby, he stabilised the club after the disastrous Paul Jewell era and probably set the foundations in place for a period of promotion challenges that followed. His Burton side is competitive and isn't out of the race for survival.

He took Sheffield United to two cup semi finals, although failed to get them back to the Championship. A Blades fan I trust said they did become 'terrible' toward the end of his reign and said that his signings he made were poor...although did at least prefer him to his successor Nigel Adkins.

A mixed bag then, but you have to remember the market we're in. The likes of Gary Rowett don't want to work for Fawaz and he's greatly damaged the reputation of the club. If Nigel didn't have such a strong link to the club then there wouldn't even be a dilemma to resolve.

Nigel is experienced and would be able to steady the ship. As much as I respect Gary Brazil and Jack Lester, a 20-game stint would be an awful long caretaker spell. Personally, and I know not everyone feels the same, I'd feel a little less nervous about relegation if we had a more established manager at the helm. I've advocated Kenny Jackett as a calm, sensible, stable figure to lead us to safety - Nigel could fit that bill. We do, after all, need to stay in this league if we're going to be able to attract a buyer and get shut of Fawaz.

There'd certainly be no danger of Clough not understanding the club and its odd combination of history, yearning for a style and expectation of results. Indeed, this is a man who had to live with being the 'manager's son' for his entire Forest playing career so he's already learned to live with that 'Brian Clough legacy pressure' in a way that the club hasn't. At the soap opera that is Nottingham Forest, a Clough return seems like an obvious plot development.

Still, the biggest issue is what Nigel makes of it all. It might turn out to be a tale of two chairmen and, if it does, he'll surely stick with Ben Robinson. His stewardship of Burton has been superb and puts Fawaz to shame. Nigel has personal and emotional ties with Burton that must be every bit as strong as those he has for Forest and we'd do well not to forget all of that. Is it worth jacking all of that in to get sacked here in six months?

On the flip side of the coin is Fawaz. The man who criticised Dougie Freedman's style of play, blames Billy Davies and Stuart Pearce for a transfer embargo and is seemingly now taking responsibility for signings himself. Whether he likes it or not he's an interfering owner and someone who could put anyone off. He's showed no sign of learning a single lesson from the mess he's made of the club either, something that was abundantly clear in his interview with Natalie Jackson this week.

Of course, you could look at this another way. Clough could use the fact that the club's owner is under pressure to force him to agree to what he'd want. His dad certainly knew how to 'play' a chairman to get his own way. Fawaz, who seemed rattled in his interview, might think backing Clough would get people off his back so that he can return to the process of looking for signings. The words 'could' and 'might' are important there though.

I'm torn, therefore. I like Nigel and think he could do a job to ensure the club survives in the Championship. But the fact that I like him also means that I don't want him to be the next man to be burned by the Fawaz regime and I certainly don't want the owner to be able to hide behind a club legend and escape the spotlight.

If he decides to come, I'll be right behind him. We'd owe him nothing less than our full support. Yet, I'd also respect him for staying at Burton.

It's not an easy dilemma for anyone involved but as Tuesday looms - with the transfer window set to close and a crucial game against Rotherham to be played - this weekend has to end with a decision.